3/5/98 The On-Going Story of the Easter People Rev by paulj


									April 29, 2007                     The Good Shepherd                     Rev. Sally Harris
                           (Psalm 23; John 10 selected verses)
       Good Shepherd, may the words of our story and the meditation of our hearts
                               make a new world possible.
       Grant us a compassion and care within us that is reflective of yourself. Amen
On the Sundays following Easter the church explores the beginning and the continuing story
of the Easter people. It is our heritage; a story born out of the fear, anger, grief and
disillusionment of those left with no leader. Jesus was dead. Our story tells us that in their
confusion and in their grief they experienced in unique and powerful ways the presence of
the risen Christ. Today we reflect on the on-going story of the Easter people. This is our
story; we are the on-going Easter people and it is the story of the community of John, the
Johannine community, who left their legacy, their struggles, their conflicts and their
resolutions to us through the gospel of John. From the beginning the Christian church has
been born in and through the crucible of conflict. For the Johannine community, decades
after Jesus' earthly existence, the crisis was determining the direction their community
would follow. The author of this gospel struggles to find a way through their on-going conflict
by looking at the Hebrew Scriptures and the developing Jesus tradition that other gospel
writers had drawn upon. The verses we read today are the product of the discussion and the
debate within the Jewish-Christian self-exploration. In the Johannine controversy the
question is: what direction will we take in light of the increasing orthodoxy of the Jewish
community against the Jewish Christian. Who are we? Disciples of Moses or Followers of
Christ? Or are we both? How do we find our way through this time of increasing hostility of
the world toward our faith and our own debate within our community? How will we lead? Who
will lead us? How do we prevent an us against them kind of argument. What are the real
issues? Relevant questions of leadership and power for our time, our church, our country and
our world. And so we are invited into this gospel to reflect on this community’s way of
addressing these questions.
    Our reading from John begins with a fusion of two parables. In essence the parables say:
"You can't arrive in this community (this sheep pen) without going through the gate. In going
through the gate you will be called shepherds. And the sheep will know the shepherd's voice
and the shepherd will know their names. And although Jesus drew this picture for the
listeners, they just didn't get it. O. K. let's try again. So , as noted in our reading Jesus said: I
am the gate who opens to you a way of being - a way of being that will lead you to
wholeness, to fullness and in that wholeness you will be a shepherd. A shepherd, like me. I
am the model by which you lead. And I lead by relationship - by intimately knowing you and
you knowing me. There is both gentleness and firmness in this model shepherd; in this noble
shepherd. The good shepherd knows that there will be times when you will need to stop and
rest - where still waters and green pastures are what is needed and there will be times of
walking through dark valleys, times of turbulent waters and desert land. Still the good
shepherd insists on no short-cuts, the model shepherd encourages the journey. The style of
leadership with which the Johannine community identified was that of the good shepherd;
whose basis for leadership was relationship.
   There is a new movie out, called The Good Shepherd. It is the untold story of the birth of
the CIA viewed through the life of a man whose basis of leadership was not relationship but
was about the uses of information and disinformation and how their use is ultimately, power.
Being a good shepherd in the world of power politics means knowing ABOUT others… not to
build relationship but to gain control. A few years back there was another movie called The
Object of My Affection - it was an interesting twist to an otherwise ordinary romantic
comedy. A man and a woman meet and become roommates and best friends. The woman is
involved in a relationship that isn't particularly fulfilling but it is a relationship with a man
who wants to marry her. Her roommate is a gay man who has just been left by his partner.
Their friendship grows and the woman realizes she loves this man, her roommate - he
becomes the object of her affection. The story continues as her roommate seeks to maintain
both his friendship with the woman and his own integrity as he meets and loves a man. It is a
difficult lesson for her to learn and yet by the end of the movie; the object of her affection
truly becomes the subject of her affection.
   It is sometimes easier to see one another; identify one another as objects; objects of
affection or objects of aversion; objects to be feared, controlled and contained. The
parables of shepherding seek to teach both the Johannine community and us that we are to
tend to one another as real people; with real needs and wants and hurts. When this happens:
when we recognize one another's voice; when we know each other's name we give ourselves a
chance to be transformed by one another. We give our selves a chance to be open to the
Spirit moving within us and among us. Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a soft, you-can-treat-
me-anyway you like kind of knowing. It is a challenging model of respect and compassion.
    A story is told about the famous actor Charles Laughton who attended a dinner party.
After dinner they gathered in the living room. The host called upon him to recite the 23rd
Psalm. He said he would. His British accent amplified the perfect timing and cadence of his
performance. After the applause, the host invited others to recite something. There was an
elderly woman sitting in the corner. She happened to be the aunt of the host. She was asked
if she would recite something. She was nearly deaf so she hadn’t heard what had gone
before. She stood up and started to recite the 23rd Psalm. People at first were embarrassed.
It was an awkward situation to have her recite the same psalm as the great actor Charles
Laughton. Before she finished, people were caught up in her presentation. Some began to
weep. Later Mr. Laughton was asked why her reading was so moving when she didn’t have any
of the skills that he had as an actor. He said, “I know the psalm. She knows the shepherd.”

                The Shepherd has walked with me; I could ask nothing more.
                   The Shepherd has given me green meadows to laugh in,
                                clear streams to think beside,
                                  untrodden paths to explore.
                      When I thought the world rested on my shoulders,
                          The Shepherd put things into perspective;
            When I lashed out at an unfair world, the Shepherd calmed me down;
                  When I drifted into harmful ways, The Shepherd found me.
                           The Shepherd was with me all the way.
                     I do not know what lies ahead, but I am not afraid.
                I know you will be with me. Even in death, I will not despair.
                             You will comfort me and support me.
         Though my eye dims and my mind dulls, You will continue to stand with me.
                      Your touch will soothe the tension in my temples;
                          My fears will fade away. I am content.
          In life, in death, in life beyond death, The Shepherd is with me.
                    All though life, I have found goodness in people.
When life ends, I expect to be gathered into the ultimate goodness of The Shepherd.
                                                                    Psalm 23: A paraphrase

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